JOE TIZZARD reports Thistlecrack, one of National Hunt racing’s most popular horses, to be in “super” shape ahead of his intended comeback in the bet365 Charlie Chase this Saturday.
His upbeat comments come after the 2016 King George Chase hero was one of 11 runners officially declared for Wetherby’s showpiece race of the year at the West Yorkshire track.
However, the participation of Thistlecrack, who has not run since last December’s King George, does depend on there being sufficient ease in the ground at Wetherby – the going is currently good and the track is being watered each day prior to the big race.
“We’re really happy with Thistlecrack,” reported Tizzard, a former jockey who is now assistant trainer to his father Colin. “Tom Scudamore has schooled him and the Charlie Hall Chase is the plan.
“He gets to run in the race without a penalty because he hasn’t won for a couple of seasons. We were always fighting a battle with Thistlecrack last season as he wasn’t physically as good as he could be.
“In the King George he just got a bit too excited and then he did a stress fracture of his hind leg, so he stood in his box for three months.
“At the end of last season, he was back and we toyed with running, including taking him over to France, but we decided against it.
“We only gave him six weeks in the field this summer as we purposely didn’t want him to get too big out in the fields. He’s been back here and we’re really pleased with him.
“Physically he looks super. We’ll start in the Charlie Hall and then decide from there. He could potentially meet Native River in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. With these 160 and 170 rated performers there are only a number of races they can run in. He hasn’t made it to a Gold Cup yet and if he’s sound and well I’m sure that will be the long-term aim.”
The field also includes defending champion Bristol De Mai. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the grey beat stablemate Blaklion in a thrilling finish to a prestigious race, which is the National Hunt season’s traditional curtain-raiser.
Twiston-Davies has a formidable record in a Grade Two race that can be traced back to 1969 – he is the most successful trainer with five victories to his name thanks to Tipping Tim (1992), Young Hustler (1994), Ollie Magern (2005, 2007) and the Daryl Jacob-ridden Bristol De Mai 12 months ago.
However, Twiston-Davies told The Yorkshire Post that Bristol De Mai will only run if the going is on the soft side of good.
Yorkshire hopes rest with Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red, who has not raced since being unplaced in the Cheltenham Gold Cup under Danny Cook when very tacky ground put paid to his chances. Cook’s mount also holds an entry in the West Yorkshire Hurdle on the same card.
Former champion trainer Paul Nicholls could be represented by Black Corton, a first Grade One winner last December for Bryony Frost, and Clan Des Obeaux, whose owners include Sir Alex Ferguson.
Black Corton’s participation depends on a schooling session this week, according to assistant trainer Harry Derham who said Clan Des Obeaux is another in need of significant rainfall.
Alpha Des Obeaux, Outlander and Don Poli have been handed entries by top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott. The field is completed by Double Shuffle (Tom George), Virgilio (Dan Skelton) and Regal Encore (Anthony Honeyball), with final declarations on Friday.